Full Size Pontiac Club

Pio's 1970 Grand Prix Project


Here she is. When my youngest son was born a touch early he had a few medical issues that needed to be addressed and those issues weren't coming cheap. The great news was he could be treated and would be just fine. The bad news was my loaded 1964 Bonneville Safari had to go to cover those expenses. The decision was an easy one to make but a bummer nonetheless. 

Once we were back on track and he was doing fine, I began poking around for a replacement for that long roof. One of the first ads I came across was for a 1970 Grand Prix in the same exterior/interior color combo I had 30 years ago! It was identical to the first Grand Prix I had ever owned except this one had a 400 instead of the 455 I came to love back when I was a youngin'. 

Follow along as I take care of the minor cancer and add the power that was lacking in this unusual GP that originally came with a 400 2bbl. Yes, that would have to go...

I’ll never forget my first time. I was too young to know what to do with her. Didn’t make enough money to treat her how she deserved to be treated. In the end she left me for another, older guy that probably remembered when he was 19 and found himself in the same position I was in. I still can see her in my memory like it was yesterday but I don’t have a single photo to share with others. That first time I owned that 70 GP was all it took to get me hooked.

 

Being 19 and working part time while putting yourself through college meant you had to be resourceful and not too proud to beg to get what you “needed”. My buddy Tom grew up around an older brother that could do anything to a car and all of his buddies were just the same. They always had neat stuff. Mostly Fords. Andy was restoring a ‘66 Fairlane GTA convertible. Paulie had a ‘67 or ‘68 Mustang Sportroof with a very healthy 289. It sounded incredible. Tom picked up a ’66 Thunderbird that transported us back and forth to Lake Geneva while we were not quite in our “right minds”. For some reason we decided it needed its 428 rebuilt, so out came the hoist and off came the heads. Crazy kids.

 

Anyway, come one sunny afternoon Tom gets a call from one of the guys. An acquaintance had an old Grand Prix that he wanted to get rid of…NOW. He was fairly local so we got the address and drove on over. Upon lifting the garage door, the GP was barely visible. It was covered in lawn chairs, boxes, dirt, raccoon tracks, you name it. Luckily the windows were left open for 15 years so we were sure the interior had to be mint. NOT. The nose had vertical fins in the grill so I knew it was a ’70. Off to a good start I thought.

 

After 20 minutes of unearthing the car from the debris, we were able to better assess what was sitting there. The console was pulled out and laying over the seats. The shifter was on the floor and I don’t mean where the factory put it! The carpet was pulled up over the pedals and the buckets were both laying down in the forward position. Sorry sight so far. We were able to pop the hood for a look and saw some gleaming chrome valve covers. Hmmmmm. We asked and were told the motor was a 455 rebuilt a long, long, time ago and the name of the had completely vanished from the guy’s memory. Rebuilt? Sure it was. Whatever.

 

The coolant was still green and the oil looked OK. Tranny fluid was almost full and clean. The brake pedal felt good enough for a 19 year old so we topped off the master cylinder and pumped the pedal. No fluid on the floor yet. There was no gas in the car as far as we could tell which actually was a blessing. We ran out to get some fuel and pull the battery from Tom’s Suburban to see if it would turn over. A mini compressor brought the flattened whitewall tires to life. We put a few gallons in the tank and cleaned up the battery terminals. To our surprise the lights, signals, horn, wipers, etc all worked. We primed the carb and crossed our fingers. A twist of the key showed signs of waking from hibernation. It cranked for a few then we let it sit. A second attempt gave us a little taste if but for a moment. The third twist of the key was the charm. That 455 woke up and it was PISSED! She sounded great. The dual exhaust held up all these years and man did it sound fantastic. We were all out-of-our minds psyched! The only problem was the shifter wasn’t even mounted. How the hell are we going to move this thing ?

 

I knew nothing about them at the time but Tom gets in and just turns the collar on the steering wheel. She lurched forward a fraction of an inch…it was GO TIME! I jumped in the passenger seat and Tom inched her out of the garage for the first time in ages. It was a truly awesome sight. We rolled her down the alley kind of easing her into motion again after all these years. She was happy to be out and about again for sure. After a ginger stroll around the block Tom asks me, “I wonder if this has a POSI.” (Forgive us Pontiac faithful. We didn’t know what a Saf-T-Trak was at the time. At least he didn’t call it a Detroit Locker!) Anyway, there was only one way to find out if it was a “posi”. He holds the brake in the middle of a side street and just stands on the gas. He had no intention of letting up either. It seemed like 10 minutes but we just sat there disintegrating the tires effortlessly. It was a magical moment.

 

Needless to say, Tom was buying the car immediately and we had no intention of ending our test drive anytime soon. The next half an hour was spent simply driving around the neighborhood doing burnouts at every stop sign. A car was double parked in the middle of the road while two guys were talking like the street was theirs. We took the time to pull around them, backed up and did a burnout in their faces that you could probably see from space! The only thought going through my head was WE RULE!!! It was a day I’ll never forget.

 

Tom did buy the car and spent the next few weeks going through the brakes, installing the shifter, new carpet, console, etc. The body wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad. It was Sierra Yellow with a saddle top and interior. Not my first choice but it wouldn’t attract law enforcement so it was OK with us. I don’t remember the code on the motor but it was in-fact a 455 at the very least. This motor was angry when you wanted it to be and docile for everyday driving as well. It had an open rear end but that was fine for the time being. After a few months of ownership, Tom finally gave in to my badgering and sold it to me. I put some BFGs on the deep Rally IIs and drove her for years. My wife (then girlfriend) still wakes up in a cold sweat from time to time with nightmares of taking sidestreets at 80 MPH in Chicago. There was a time coming home from a blues bar years later, the GP packed with 800 lbs of friends where I remember yelling out, “110 in a turn!!!!” and unleashed my best Dukes of Hazard holler! Idiot.

 

There were times when the car saved me as well. My girlfriend lived about 40 minutes away but I would drive the GP out to see her 3 or 4 times a week getting home very late each time. One evening after midnight, I found myself waking up, driving on the expressway with chunks of glass hitting me in the face. I had fallen asleep at the wheel in a construction zone and woke up while plowing through rows of construction horses. The glass was a combination of the broken remote mirror and about 30 of the construction lights I was taking out. After assessing the damage when I got home, she had nothing more than a broken mirror and some scratches, but I was alive. 

 

Over the next couple of years I drove the GP year-round, relentlessly and without guilt. I’d bake in the summer and freeze in the winter but I didn’t care. She was good to me. After some extended periods of neglect and a round of financial need, I sold her for $900. Every body panel was rotted, the 455 was experiencing some ring blow-by and one axle bearing fried. The axle slid out of the housing while I limped home around a corner. She was needing more than I could give her and away she went.

 

Many, MANY years passed and many more Pontiacs came and went. I loved them all but you only have your first car one time. In 2007 my third child was born early and experienced some extended hospital stays and needed medical attention once he was home as well. He’s a tough little guy and doing just great now but the medical bills added up. At the time I restored a loaded 1964 Bonneville Safari. It was awesome and I loved it but financial realities dictated that she would have to go. It found a generous and loving home in the Calgary Canada region. The new owner flew in to Chicago and drove her home. That got us out of a jamb but it wouldn’t be long before something else would find its way back into my garage…

 

Enter Terrorizer II! It was a 70 GP being sold locally and nothing special at all. A CA car until the 90s where it found its way back to the Great Lakes region. It was a 400 2bbl automatic. PW and buckets and that’s about it. The kicker was it was the same color combo as my original 70. The door panels and dash were fantastic. It drove great if not sluggish and sat just right. It was a little rusty in a few cosmetic areas but a leaking rer main keep the underside absolutely perfect. Here she is as she sat for the first several years I owned her. Presentable enough to drive and enjoy without worry.  

Those first few years I addressed a few mechanical issues such as having the rear end rebuilt and putting Rally IIs and tires on it. It drove so nicely with no rattles or squeaks. The itch to really attack the car struck so I took it out to Mike Ardito at TriPOwer Automotive to have all of the rusty areas completely cut-out and new metal was fabricated. It only needed a couple of spots around the rear wheel lips and lower quarters and a spot on the decklid/tulip panel. Once hit with epoxy I continued to drive it as-is for some time. In February of 2011 Mike and I began to make plans for our yearly Full Size Pontiac Chi-Town Shindig. That was all the motivation I needed to take the next step.

 

Putting a car in primer and leaving it that way gets you accused instantly of either being lazy and unable to finish a project or accused of hiding a rusty car with bad body work. I suppose I will never hear the end of those arguments as I LOVE my satin black epoxy. I wanted my GP in that finish ever since reading a Car Craft feature about Terry McGean’s 69 Camaro. The focus was “stop waiting until the car is finished. DRIVE IT.” He cleaned up the Camaro he’s owned for 20+ years, got it running and driving again and put it in PPGDP90 epoxy. It looked awesome. I’ve wanted to do that ever since. Even though I spent a nice chunk of change getting the car back to rust-free, somebody will always think less of it and I don’t care! Away it went to my buddy Frank Moore’s shop, FD Customs, where we spent several nights stripping off the chrome, pulling off the vinyl  top, sanding and blocking the car and putting it in my beloved satin black epoxy. Just the way I wanted it. Here she is in her satin ebony glory:

I brought her home and began driving her recreationally for a bit until Frank called me up and asks, “Do you want a built 462 Pontiac motor and TH400 trans?” Ummmmm. YES.

 

A customer of his had a 2nd Gen F-body that was getting an LS motor transplant and the 462 was going to need a home. It wasn’t free but it was CHEAP and that was right what I wanted to spend! Now begins phase 2 of the GP’s life. Eric Binotti started by pulling the old 400 out of the GP and dropping the 462 in. 

Once the block and trans was in I began reassembly and detailing of the engine. Although the Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold looked great, I wanted more of a stock appearance. I ground off the lettering, bead blasted the manifold and painted it Pontiac Blue. The intake runners on the manifold sat quite a bit higher now and the alternator bracket would no longer fit. I cut out a section of the bracket and ground down the rough edges. With some judicious sanding and a coat of underhood black, it looks like a factory bracket again. All bolts for the accessories were ARP bolts painted to match either the block or the component they were attached to. It began to look like a complete car again. 

I dragged her back to FD Customs so I could cut the old exhaust off and drop the dented and bruised gas tank. The new gas tank was sumped. We’ll be running new fuel lines, and electric pump as well as correcting some old brake lines and bushings as long as we’re under there. A tweaked Holley 823.8 CFM carb was purchased from SCS Performance to feed the increased needs this 462 has for fuel. 

Well, it's been some time, hasn't it? I've been pushing and pushing and pushing to get this thing done before our 2013 Full Size Pontiac Chi-Town Shindig and by April 13th, it was finally together. Fully wired, plumbed, fueled and exhausted. Time for some key-turnin...and man did she crackle to life! It sounded like a freaking jet-boat motor! The 3" exhaust and 40 series Flowmasters were in their glory. Quick oil pressure check showed 65lbs. So far so good. I little tap was catching our ears but nothing hairy. After about 10 minutes smoke started to pump out the driver side pipe. Then a LOT of smoke. Then oil pressure drop. Shut her down. 

This motor was hurt. There was a lot of silence in the shop that moment. My buddy that owned the shop knew the seller and vouched for the motor. So much so that we never did the things we normally do like pop the heads and pan off to have a good look-see. The seller was a local that came around regularly so we didn't expect to be hosed but this was bad. We dug in immediately to tear it down again to remove the motor. When the driver side header was dropped, oil poured out. That's not good. Pulling a spark plug revealed it was crushed closed and oil soaked. Shining a light into the cylinder showed something not quite right. We didn't know what exactly, but definitely not right. That's it...head was coming off. It wouldn't take long to see that a hole in the piston top and what looked like a melted cylinder wall would cause some oil pressure issues and perhaps a hint of smoke out of the tailpipe. Further teardown revealed a couple of flattened lobes and bearings that were moments away from being dust. Here are a few photos of the good news...
Winter's a comin'. Let's flip to the next page to see where the ol' girl is at this point...